Middle-East: Law failing to protect child brides, abuse of girls and women

January 21, 2014 | By | Reply More

Jan 21, – Early marriage compromises girls’ development and often results in early pregnancy and social isolation. Child marriage also reinforces the vicious cycle of early marriage, low education, high fertility, and poverty.

hromedia Law failing to protect child brides arab uprising2Setting and enforcing a minimum legal age for marriage is necessary to protect girls, who are more affected than boys by the practice of child marriage.

Most countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have laws on the minimum age for marriage, ranging from age 13 in Iran to age 20 in Tunisia for females, and from age 15 in Yemen to age 21 in Algeria for males (see table).

Minimum Legal Age for Marriage in the Middle East and North Africa






Algeria 18 21
Egypt 16 18
Iran 13 15
Iraq 18 18
Jordan 18 18
Morocco 18 18
Tunisia 20 20
Yemen 15 15

Some families take advantage of religious laws that condone an earlier marriage age, and arrange for their daughters to marry in religious wedding ceremonies, postponing the official registration until the bride reaches the legal age.

Such practices further disadvantage child brides, leaving them with no legal basis to receive inheritance, alimony, or child support if the husband dies prematurely or abandons his underage bride.

With many families conducting religious ceremonies to marry off their young daughters and a low minimum legal age for girls in some countries, a significant number of girls in the MENA region still get married before age 18.

In Yemen, one-third of women ages 20 to 24 are married by age 18. In Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq, significant proportions of women ages 20 to 24 were married before their 18th birthday (see figure). Among countries with available data, Algeria has the lowest percent of young women who were married before their 18th birthday, 2 percent.

Education is the most important factor influencing the age of marriage for women. Improving access to education for both girls and boys and eliminating gender gaps in education are important strategies for ending child marriage.

Since families have great influence in their daughters’ marriages, they need to be involved in the solution and encourage their daughters to stay in school and ensure a protected transition to adulthood.

Increasing the years of compulsory education may be one tactic to prolong the period of time when a girl is in school and unavailable for marriage. In addition, policies and programs should be geared toward discouraging early marriage by:

  • Encouraging parents to keep their daughters in school until they finish high school and subsidizing the cost for families with limited financial resources.
  • Raising public awareness about children’s rights to education and protection against exploitation.
  • Changing the attitudes of people who condone the practice of early marriage by targeted campaigns and use of the mass media, showcasing the benefits of keeping girls in school for their individual development and well-being, as well as for benefits to their families.

Press journalist for HRO media – Khizer Hayat contributed to this report.

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Category: Women Rights

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